Public Art Project & "Speed of Trust"

Join us on Sunday, January 8, 2023, for a roundtable discussion, "Public Art as Resistance: A Model for Working at the 'Speed of Trust,'" at the Annual Modern Language Association Convention in San Francisco. 

The College of Humanities & the Arts at San Jose State University has been creating experiential humanities programming with its H&A in Action initiative for the past two years under the leadership of Dean Shannon Miller and Katherine D. Harris, Director of Public Programming. The participants of this roundtable will discuss our efforts and their relationship to the 5 core values of our multiple initiatives with the most recent example from the Geography of the Arts initiative, "Public Art as Resistance in San Jose," an in-person walking tour (created in collaboration with the City of San Jose and several local artist organizations), self-guided tour using an existing mobile app (which creates multiple points of access for off-campus community members), Instagram hashtag campaign #SJResistArt (to create and capture community engagement), exhibit (selected from the #SJResistArt posts), and discussion panel (made up of some of the artists who created the public art). The roundtable conversation will begin with a brief introduction from each participant about engaging in Public Humanities at SJSU over the last year and then proceed with a moderated conversation about community engagement and Public Humanities.

By finding ways to connect with readers and writers beyond our usual circles of experts, in a range of different registers, and in ways that move beyond enabling them to listen to us to instead allow for meaningful dialogue and collaboration, we can create the possibilities for far more substantial public participation in and engagement with a wide range of kinds of academic work. We can build programs and networks and platforms that do not just bring the university to the world, but also involve the world in the university.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Generous Thinking (135).

We have found that our public programming and community engagement lead to some incredible experiential learning opportunities for our students. Though the infrastructure of our initiatives are built on the National Humanities Council recommendations for community engagement, we are finding that most Public Humanities initiatives gauge success based on the number of attendees. But, how can we truly gauge engagement among the different constituencies? We have found that by embracing the tenets of Digital Humanities in project construction that the best type of project is one that involves the voices of community members, faculty scholarship, and student identity at the very beginning of the project. 

As a case study, we will open our discussion with an example, our “Public Art” project: Downtown San Jose is rich with public art but many of the public art maps have been created by the City, which heralds its own agenda for revitalizing downtown businesses. As an urban campus in the middle of downtown San Jose, our College is positioned to be that bridge between City and arts organizations as well as break the invisible boundary between the campus and the surrounding diverse communities. The research required to create a walking tour, panel of art experts, and community exhibit each act as sites of community dialogue and engagement that can afford agency through art. The Co-Director of the "Public Art as Resistance" project, Dr. Alena Sauzade heralded the stalwart reminder to work at the "speed of trust."

Topics to be explored:

  • Building relationships at the “speed of trust" (Sauzade) with local arts organizations
  • Leveraging university resources with small state Humanities Council grants
  • Integrating student voices through curriculum & mentoring
  • Creating collaborative spaces among faculty
  • Tackling social issues (unhoused population; Japanese internment camps)

This roundtable discussion articulates a growing need for demonstrating how to create relationships between university initiatives and the local organizations that may not always trust the university's motives. 

Colleges and universities need to hear how to truly engage the community at the outset of their projects. Also, we have a unique way to create student agency and value student identity in our public humanities initiatives -- building through explicit curricular development and mentoring students in ways that highlight their own diverse identities and cultural backgrounds. 


Katherine D. Harris: Katherine D. Harris is the Director of Public Programming for the College of Humanities and the Arts as well as a Professor of Literature and Digital Humanities. 

Shannon Miller: Shannon Miller is the Dean of the College of Humanities and Arts at San José State University.  Her field of specialization is Renaissance Literature and Culture.

Kerri J. Malloy: Kerri J. Malloy is an Assistant Professor of Global Humanities in the Department of Humanities at San José State University. His an interdisciplinary scholar of Indigenous genocide, healing, and reconciliation in North America. 

Kerry Rohrmeier: Dr. Rohrmeier joined the project as an  Assistant Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning based on background in cultural geography. She employs traditional ethnographic field methods but uses GIS and story maps to visually communicate research findings.

-Author: Katherine D. Harris (Jan. 2, 2023)